Many of Charlotte’s charities offer help to undocumented immigrants but prefer not to publicize it for fear of being dragged into the nation’s ongoing immigration debate.
An exception is Mecklenburg County’s food pantry system, which made it a policy not to deny the hungry people referred by other agencies.
As a result, Loaves & Fishes now finds itself on the front line of an issue most Americans are not aware of: Nearly 1 in 3 Latinos goes hungry in a land of plenty.
That was the point Latino experts made repeatedly at a forum last week that unveiled No Mas Hambre, a nationwide program designed to tackle Latino hunger. Its organizers intend to stir the Latino community into becoming more involved with fighting hunger, whether through volunteerism, donations or starting their own efforts.
The AARP Foundation, which is a partner in No Mas Hambre, announced last week that it will help by giving $10,000 to Charlotte-based Second Harvest Food Bank for programs that feed Latinos and elderly people. Second Harvest supplies charity food programs in Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.
Other partners in the initiative include Wells Fargo and Texas-based Latino Magazine.
In a visit to Charlotte to promote the effort, Latino Magazine publisher Alfredo Estrada acknowledged that many Latinos are not even aware of the issue.
“If we Latinos don’t get involved in the fight against hunger, we will not win,” he said.
Among those already involved is Alvaro Gurdian, vice president of Charlotte’s Spanish-language La Noticia newspaper. He serves on the board of Loaves & Fishes, which estimates about 20 percent of its clients are immigrants.
However, he said, much more can be done to help Charlotte’s immigrants understand that there is help out there for them, he said.
“It’s a bit of a culture difference that we (Latinos) don’t know the questions to ask,” he said.
Loaves & Fishes has 19 pantries in the county, including at least one that is run by a Latino community center for a mostly Latino clientele.
Beverly Howard, head of Loaves & Fishes, said the agency now has signs in Spanish and English at pantries that serve immigrants, along with bilingual pantry workers. It is also trying to provide more foods preferred by Latinos, including black beans, rice, tortillas and eggs.
“We have found Latinos don’t like peanut butter. It’s sweet, and they are not used to a sweet protein. They won’t even eat pork and beans. They don’t want beans with sugar added,” Howard said.
“And turkey is not big at Thanksgiving. Many immigrant families don’t have a clue how to prepare it.”
Howard said the agency continues to look for Spanish-speaking volunteers and welcomes any assistance the Latino community can provide in improving service to immigrants.
She hopes that won’t ruffle some feathers among immigration foes, but the agency is committed to helping “anyone with a valid referral, regardless of age, color, nationality or faith.”
Children make up 48 percent of the people fed by the agency, she said.
“We’re feeding them because they’re hungry,” she said. “I’ve checked the Bible, and no where does it say, ‘Feed the hungry, as long as they’re American citizens.’ ”